Mississippi Senate OKs charter schools

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, February 10, 2010

JACKSON(AP) — A divided Mississippi Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow the widespread use of charter schools funded by tax dollars but free of some regulations followed by other public schools.

The bill passed 29-19, but is not expected to fare well in the House, where similar proposals have already died.

During a nearly two-hour Senate debate, supporters said charter schools would be free to use innovative teaching methods that could improve academic performance.

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, such as longer school days or more focused fields of study.

Opponents said charter schools would strip money from public schools that are already struggling with state budget cuts, or worse, begin a return to racial segregation.

‘‘I am so afraid that the least of our people will be left off, those who have less voice will be left off,’’ said Democratic Sen. David Jordan of Greenwood, who grew up attending underfunded black schools before court-ordered integration.

Republican Sen. Michael Watson of Pascagoula said charter schools could be dismantled if they fail to improve academic performance. He said Mississippi has significantly increased its public school funding in the past several years but the state continues to rank low in test scores and other national measurements.

‘‘We are pouring money into this with no results,’’ Watson said. ‘‘Something has to change.’’

There are no charter schools currently in Mississippi. Under a state law that was taken off the books last year, one charter school was formed years ago in the Delta. Department of Education spokesman Pete Smith said the facility has been converted to a magnet school, which follows most of the same regulations as other local public schools.

Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson said last week that his organization opposes the creation of charter schools. He said the state should focus on improving all of its public schools.

The bill is Senate Bill 2293.